The US elections on Tuesday last week saw the Republican Party gain control of the White House, as well as the House of Representatives and the Senate, as Donald Trump was elected president. The party also dominated the gubernatorial races, with more than half of all the governorships now under its control. The results came as a surprise to many and caused some panic in financial markets, which tend to overreact when faced with sudden political and economic changes.
The US is Taiwan’s most important ally, with whom it shares a close political and economic relationship. It is vital that the government closely follow political developments in the US — especially in terms of Trump’s policy plans and their potential effect on Taiwan — and prepare itself for changes.
Judging from Trump’s election campaign, what distinguished him from others was his unpredictability. He had no political experience, and has neither served in the public sector nor the military.
As a businessman-turned-politician, he does not play by the rules, nor does he follow political traditions. For this reason, he is often controversial and has been described by some as “unfit” for office or even “pathetic.”
Despite his unimpressive performance at the presidential debates and his expected defeat by mainstream media, Trump was elected president. His victory is a reflection of many Americans’ — especially the white working class — unhappiness with the state of the country and eagerness for change. This desire for change may be populist or irrational, but it was very strong, shocking experts, politicians and the media.
It is worth noting that aside from winning the presidential election, the Republican Party — quite surprisingly — swept to victory in other polls, a sign that the US is shifting toward right-wing conservatism.
With Trump set to become the next US president, the world is concerned with how different “Donald Trump the candidate” will be from “President Trump.”
During his campaign, Trump vowed to crack down on illegal immigration, cut taxes for the rich, repeal the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” dump the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), cancel the Paris climate agreement, make US allies share in the cost of defense provided by the US, pull out of NATO and start a trade war with China. He also humiliated women, and threatened Muslims and immigrants.
Many are concerned that once Trump implements his policies to “make America great again,” internationalism will give way to protectionism for the first time in the US since World War II, and globalization will slow down.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has said that, should that happen, the world would face a new wave of economic recession, and according to the New York Times, that would put the US in a very dangerous situation.
Nevertheless, as a candidate, Trump has often changed his political position, and it is possible that his policies would not follow his earlier plans. While people have speculated about his policies, no two people have come to the same conclusions. That the stock market reacted to the news of Trump leading the vote with a sudden decline before rising again is but one example of how varied the public’s opinions are about the president-elect.
In his acceptance speech, Trump appeared gracious and presidential. Unlike how he behaved during the campaign, he was careful with his words and pledged to be “a president for all Americans.” And as Americans hit the streets to protest against his election, it is clear that, although US presidents have unrestrained power in many ways, the nation’s democratic system counterbalances that power.
Compared with other political parties in the US, the Republican Party has always been more open to Taiwan. During the election campaign, the party included the “six assurances” given to Taiwan in 1982 by then-US president Ronald Reagan in its party platform, which does not recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.
As the Republican Party gains control of both houses of Congress, most congressional members who support Taiwan will remain in office for another term, including cochairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, US Representative Gerry Connolly.
The government should work on improving security cooperation and diplomatic ties with the next US administration. Furthermore, since the US has criticized Taiwan’s low defense budget, it is likely that under Trump, Taiwan and other US allies will be expected to increase their military spending. In light of that, Taipei should step up national defense to show its determination to defend itself.
Under Trump, there is also the likelihood of a trade conflict between the US and China, which could affect Taiwanese businesses in China and, eventually, slow Taiwan’s economy. This is why President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has been focusing on decreasing economic dependence on China.
The government must continue to work on implementing its “new southbound policy” and improving international trade. Considering Trump’s comment that Taiwan is robbing Americans of their jobs and the TPP’s dim prospects, Taiwan must push to liberalize its economy and trade, while also adopting a new eastbound policy — that is, increase investment in the US. This way, it would be better prepared for changes and avoid being accused of currency manipulation.
Yet another takeaway from the US elections is the district attorney election and referendums held on the same day as the presidential vote. As it stands, Taiwan’s judiciary has little public credibility. As the Tsai administration pushes for judicial reform, allowing the public to elect prosecutors could be another goal worth pursuing.
Another thing that may be of particular interest to Taiwanese is the US referendums, which are initiated by the public and held at the state and local government level. Particular attention has perhaps been given to California, Massachusetts and several other states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana through referendums.
Other issues that the US public voted on included raising the minimum wage, ending the death penalty, establishing casinos, raising taxes and tightening gun control measures.
In Washington, residents even voted on whether the US should have a 51st state — that is, whether to split the district into a new state.
While referendums have been allowed in Taiwan since 2003, the practice — which is supposed to promote direct democracy — still faces many restrictions. The Referendum Act (公民投票法) has come to be known as the “birdcage act” due to its excessively high threshold for passing a referendum. The Referendum Review Committee has also been criticized for abusing its power.
As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) holds a legislative majority, it has a responsibility to ensure that an amendment to lower the referendum threshold under review in the legislature passes.
The US elections have drawn widespread attention around the world, including Taiwan. It is the hope of many Taiwanese that the Referendum Act will be amended to allow them to vote on a wide variety of issues — as people in the US can.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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